Monday, October 26, 2015

Leaving the Comfort Zone: Creative Writing Major Explores the Writing Process

By Maria Cardona, Creative Writing major

As the blank page stares back at me, I once more exit out of the program in frustration. Millions of bits and pieces of ideas float around in my head, but I can’t even pin one down on the page. I struggle to find the right words, to find the right place to start, to paint a picture with my words. Many times writer’s block has gotten to me, and it wasn’t until my sophomore year here at AU that I figured out what my problem was. I was stuck wanting to do the same thing over and over again, and that’s why everything felt so generic. Yet, when I began trying new things, sometimes writing came much easier to me.

My first attempt at breaking away from my usual first person fiction tales came during my Fiction/Nonfiction workshop. I had a story, 52 pages long so far, but I hated it. My characters felt flat and the plot was beyond generic. Two high schoolers, one boy and one girl, best friends since they were little. One of them falls in love but the other doesn’t feel the same way until the end. Possibly one of the least creative things I’ve ever written in my life. Don’t get me wrong—that formula can work great, but if your heart’s not in it, it’ll be a fantastic flop like those 52 pages were.

I ditched the draft and went in a completely different, new and unexpected direction. For starters, I cast my first person safety net aside and went for third person, I know scary! It felt strange to leave I behind, to refer to every characters by their name, to be in multiple minds at once. But then I realized something wonderful! I could be in multiple minds at the same time! This gave my story much more life and different perspectives, and I could do more with my characters because I could leave one of my main characters, go to another, and have a different story line that would soon connect.

Perhaps my favorite discovery while writing in third person was the freedom I had with description. No more was I constricted by the first-person descriptions of setting that always felt vague and superficial. A third-person narrator gave me the freedom to fully paint the landscape—to show the sky, the shops, the streets, the people. To explore with sounds and smell that the I might have never known. Needless to say, I fell in love with writing in third person because the descriptive language gave my story life, a breath of fresh air, and a beauty that I could have never achieved with first person.

However, using third person was not the big adventure. I had gone from a coming of age, slightly romantic novel to a piece of historical fiction. Never had I thought that I’d be writing a piece of historical fiction, but here I was, 45 pages in. While it involved a lot of research and I had to watch my words, scenery, and props for accuracy, living through this historical period along with my characters allowed me to travel back and really understand what happened. However, I did not completely stray from the idea of romance. Yes, there’s a couple who will end up together in the story, but there’s so much more to it. It’s a story about a revolution, about a struggling writer, but more importantly, about the awakening of a strong female lead who goes from a daydreamer to a revolutionary leader.

Needless to say, I fell in love with this story and I would have never met these characters or traveled to this time if I’d played it safe and “stuck with what I knew.” While playing around with point of view and time led me to this story, it was completely switching genres that led me to find my biggest passion in writing.

While I knew that screenwriting was part of creative writing and I thought the craft was incredibly interesting, I would have never thought that it would be what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. However, it wasn’t until I experienced the screenwriting workshop with Dr. Grady that I fell in love with it.

Bear in mind that I had never written or read a film script before this class, I was coming in as an innocent sophomore, completely oblivious to the world of screenwriting. A few days of class had gone by before we had to choose a genre for our script. That’s when I originally came up with my historical fiction idea that ended up being my fiction/nonfiction piece. After careful consideration and immense stress over the fact that I had no clue what to write about I chose to go with a horror screenplay.

While I love anything related to horror, be it books, movies, etc. I had never thought about writing horror. Writing this screenplay was a challenge, I had to tap into a very dark side of myself while still having some normalcy in the scenes and trying to make it believable. At the same time, I was learning about screenwriting and playing around with the genre. I learned rather quickly how much I liked this form of storytelling and the almost-finished product gave me chills. I literally had to stop writing one day and walk away from my piece because it got a little too creepy for me and I was not ready to explore such places in my mind.

Playing around with genres, points of view, time and other things may seem terrifying at first. I get it, change is difficult and it’s much easier to stay in our comfort zone, but the truth is that if we always do the same thing we’ll get stuck, we’ll get monotonous and one day we’ll be sick of our own work because it will all seem the same. Dare to try new things; you just might find your newest story where you least expect it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Find Yourself in Writing: Writing Assistant and English Major on Discovering One's Passions

By Bethany Meadows, English major
Bethany Meadows at the Coliseum in Rome
Everyone strives to find his or her passions in life, and sometimes discovering these passions appear out of no where. During my first two months at the Writing Studio, I have discovered more about myself than I could have ever imagined through my first experience being a Writing Assistant. My job is to collaborate with students and provide a voice of experience to assist them with their papers.

I use the word “job” loosely because it does not feel like work to me. Every appointment and assignment is different for each student, and there are many tasks Writing Assistants perform. We help students with thesis development, paper structure and organization, engaging with their readings, MLA and APA style, and much more. We do not proofread or edit, but we collaborate with students to make sure their paper is the best it can be. I love this aspect of “work” because every appointment is unique in its own way. These experiences lead me not only to be the best peer consultant I can be, but also to be the best writer I can be.

Throughout my first two months at the Writing Studio, I found myself. The moment came to me like the cliché, lightning bolt of discovery. I had the moment of enlightenment where I suddenly knew that I wanted to work in English-related environments for the rest of my life. I love coming into “work” every day to help others become what I know they are all capable of.

Therefore, the next day, I changed my major to English. I knew that I could not trudge through the rest of my life being unhappy in careers related to my former major. English lights a fire within me that cannot be extinguished. I never knew that kind of fervor existed until I found my calling in helping others with their writing.

The Writing Studio has become my passion, and I have learned many lessons about life by “working” here. Firstly, I learned how to help others become better writers through insight on my own strengths and weaknesses as a writer. It is reiterated to me daily that no work is ever perfect, and everything can be constantly improved and cultivated. Secondly, I knew that I had found my path in life, which is arguably one of the best experiences in the world. Finally, I learned that sometimes the most incredible experiences happen for a reason in people’s lives. I never imagined that such a seemingly simple concept could lead me to find such complex ideas of love, passion, and determination. I could not be happier for the experience the Writing Studio provides me in my writing, in my life, and in my future goals. However, the help that this experience provides for me is nothing in comparison to the benefits for other students.

If you are interested in visiting the Writing Studio, come visit Room 104 in Bixler any time Monday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Also, to learn more, check out the website for the Writing Studio here.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Writing Studio Writing Assistant Wins Best Undergraduate Paper Award

Charlie Michel, a mathematics major and Writing Studio writing assistant, won the Pat Browne Undergraduate Paper Award at the Midwest Popular Culture Association meeting in Cincinnati in early October. Michel's presentation on the film adaptation of David Mamet's Glengarry Glenn Ross had its genesis in Dr. Maura Grady's 2014 English 102 course.

Read the AU press release here:
Pat Browne Undergraduate Paper Award by the Midwest Popular Culture Association. - See more at:
Pat Browne Undergraduate Paper Award by the Midwest Popular Culture Association. - See more at:
Pat Browne Undergraduate Paper Award by the Midwest Popular Culture Association. - See more at:

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Two English Department Majors Chosen as ACN Peace Scholars

Freshman English major Ryann Crockett and junior creative writing, psychology, and religion major Emily Wirtz were among four students chosen to receive Ashland Center for Nonviolence Peace Scholarships. Read all about it in this AU press release:

Friday, October 9, 2015

Integrated Language Arts Major Discusses Involvement in AU's Theatre Program

Ariel McCleary, a junior Integrated Language Arts major, is gearing up for the AU Theatre Department's production of Quilters, a musical that opens tonight in Hugo Young Theatre:

Ariel answers questions about her role(s) in the musical, other theatrical experiences, and how theater complements her ILA major.

Q: What is your role in Quilters and how did you get involved in the production?

A: I play about 16 different characters. The show incorporates the lives of 60 characters total, all representing the situations and hardships of women from the pioneer life of western America. My characters vary in age and personality. I play everything from a pesky little schoolboy, Cyrus, to a preacher, to a young girl whose 7th birthday was spent stuck in a dugout in a 30-below blizzard. Other roles feature main narrator Sarah's daughter Jenny, as well as her mother, Florence. I also play a sassy sister who, at her brother's 21st birthday, swears she "ain't never gettin' married."

Q: Is this your first production at AU? If not, what else have you appeared in?

A: I have been in many other productions at AU. My freshman year I was Talita in Night Train to Bolina, my sophomore year I played Kate in the debut of the new play In The Event of My Death written by Lindsay Joy, and last year I was Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. I also played Betty in a short play called "Sure Thing" for the One Acts my sophomore year. I have also been on sound board, paint crew, and was props master for other shows here.

Q: How does your involvement in the Theatre department complement your Integrated Language Arts major?

A: It has influenced my ILA major GREATLY. I have been involved with theater since high school, but college theater is so different. It is more professional, and you dig so much deeper into the lives of the characters and the art of a production. I love it. It has helped me in some obvious ways, like influencing how I analyze a text--especially plays-- in my courses, as well as giving me more fruitful ideas as to how I would teach certain texts to my students. Since I've been part of the theater world, I definitely enjoy more hands-on activity based lessons. I want to incorporate skits and character portrayals and pantomimes in my classroom. I think most high-schoolers and middle-schoolers benefit from activities where they can move and act out scenes. It boosts their confidence and lets their own personalities shine. This is really important for adolescent years, when their identity is the most malleable. 

Performing has helped my own confidence too! Which translates to my confidence with teaching in the classroom for my field experience. Teaching is a lot like acting, I've found. A good teacher knows how to be enthusiastic and warm, even if they are not feeling it some days. Being in a play also teaches you vulnerability, which is something most education majors do not know they need. I think admitting you do not know something is a key element of being a great teacher.

Q: What else would you like the readers of the blog to know?

A: I think every ILA or English major should give theater a try at least once in their life. Just because you are not a theater major or minor does not mean you shouldn't audition or work on crew. I am not a major or minor, and I have been on Theater Scholarship here and have gotten big roles! The department welcomes all kinds of fields of study. Do not be afraid!

College is a really great time to try new things, and the experiences I have had with the AU Theater Department have made me grow as a person, a teacher, and an appreciator of the arts. The department is doing Midsummer Night's Dream in the Spring. Auditions are Tuesday Nov. 10 starting at 6 p.m., so anyone who has an appreciation for Shakespeare should give it a shot!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Spring 2016 English Department Course Offerings

ENG 303 A: Writers’ Workshop in Screenwriting
Dr. Maura Grady
TTh 9:25-10:40 a.m.
Required for Creative Writing majors, elective in the English and Integrated Language Arts majors

Have you ever wanted to write your own movie or television show? Well, now you can do it and earn college credit at the same time!
In this course, you will develop and write your own original screenplay and workshop it over the semester with others in this intimate and supportive workshop setting (enrollment is capped at 14).
You will learn about formatting, structure, character, and dialogue.
Required text:

Duncan, Genre Screenwriting: How to Write Popular Screenplays that Sell

ENG 308 OLA: The Poem 

Dr. Stephen Haven
8-week online course
Core Humanities, elective in the Creative Writing, English and Integrated Language Arts majors, elective in the English and Creative Writing majors and minors

English 308 will develop students’ understanding of the interaction of form and content in poetry. Using examples from the work of important late 20th century and early 21st century writers, and focusing on four “case study” poets (Bishop, Wright, Trethewey and Levis), the course will explore how poets use such aesthetic effects as rhyme, meter, word play, repetition, associational meaning, humor, imagery, and other devices to achieve in their poems a “totality of effect.” We will explore the ways the “totality of effect” of accomplished poems can sometimes suggest layers of literal and implied meanings that compete with one another, even contradict one another, while maintaining nevertheless a sense of aesthetic unity. The course will also provide students with an understanding of the similarities and differences between lyric and narrative poetry, particularly with regard to the way differing uses of time and space create different aesthetic possibilities in the development of individual poems. With regard to Natasha Trethewey’s Native Guard and Larry Levis's Winter Stars, we will also explore the way poets can develop ideas and aesthetic strategies that characterize entire volumes of poetry.

We will read the following texts:

Elizabeth Bishop, The Complete Poems (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1983)
James Wright, Selected Poems (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2005)
Natasha Trethewey, Native Guard (Mariner Books, 2007)
Larry Levis, Winter Stars (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985)

ENG 314 A: Literature and Gender
Dr. Sharleen Mondal
MWF 10:00-10:50 AM
Core Humanities, elective in the English and Integrated Language Arts majors,
elective in the English and Creative Writing majors and minors

Our course theme for spring 2016 will be "Narratives of Cross-Cultural Encounter" The central question of our course will be: how do gender, race, class, and other such factors shape how literature is produced, reviewed by contemporary readers, and discussed in our current culture? Our readings, selected to appeal specifically to students from a diverse range of majors, will include essays, poetry, a short story, a novella, and two novels. Students will write several short literary analysis papers and two longer literary arguments. Readings are likely to be chosen from the following:

Short Essays:
John Ruskin, "Of Queens' Gardens"

John Stuart Mill, "Statement Repudiating the Rights of Husbands"
Virginia Woolf, "Professions for Women"

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, "The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point"

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "Locksley Hall"
Phillis Wheatley, Collected Works

Short Story:
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "The Yellow Wallpaper"


Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, The Perils of Certain English Prisoners


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah
Tahmima Anam, A Golden Age

ENG 317 A: Studies in Shakespeare
Dr. Russell Weaver
TTh 1:40-2:55
Core Humanities, requirement in the Integrated Language Arts and English majors,
elective in the English and Creative Writing majors and minors

Students will read examples of Shakespearean histories, comedies, romances, and tragedies, exploring language and dramatic technique to develop an understanding of the structure and themes.

ENG 324 A: The Modern Novel 

Dr. Linda Joyce Brown 
MWF 2:00-2:50 PM 
Core Humanities, elective in the the English and Creative Writing majors and minors

Our focus in this course will be on novels published between the mid-twentieth century and the present. We will read four or five novels, which will likely include some of the following:
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man; Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex; Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves; Ron Hansen, Mariette in Ecstasy; Gayl Jones, Corregidora; Chang-Rae Lee, A Gesture Life; Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being; Ann Patchett, Bel Canto; Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony

ENG 371 REHON: Literature and Film (honors)
Dr. Maura Grady
TTh 12:15-1:30
Core Aesthetics, elective in the English and Integrated Language Arts majors,
elective in the the English and Creative Writing majors and minors
The course focuses on both classic and contemporary motion pictures, with particular attention to shot composition, editing techniques, lighting, and sound. Students will consider how these elements of film direction create a visual narrative that can be studied as aesthetic and cultural expression as they study questions of adaptation.

Possible text/film pairings: The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, M*A*S*H.

ENG 401 X: The Literature of Early England
Dr. Naomi Saslaw
Wednesday 06:30PM - 09:10 p.m.
Elective in the English, Creative Writing, and ILA majors, Elective in the English and Creative Writing minors 
This course is a high-level study of the literature of England from the Anglo-Saxon period through the time of Chaucer with particular emphasis on the rhetorical features of Old and Middle English. The students will focus on a close reading of The Canterbury Tales and will also read other works, including Beowulf.

ENG 428 X: American Literature IV: World War II to Present
Dr. Jayne E. Waterman

Tu 6:00-8:30 p.m. (Hybrid)
Elective in the English, Creative Writing, and ILA majors, Elective in the English and Creative Writing minors

In a year that marks the 70th anniversary of American’s atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this course will examine the “explosive issues” that mark a wide range of literary narratives from the mid-twentieth century nuclear age to our own twenty-first century age of terror. By mapping the notions of “detonation” and “fallout,” this course will consider the disruptions of form, style, and content in local, national, and global contexts. From war and peace, the personal and the environmental, to the modern and the postmodern, a diverse range of material will be analyzed to highlight the significance of key textual, cultural and critical moments in the wake of “The Bomb.” How is the rhetoric of power represented? What are the possibilities and limitations of gender politics? Where are the diverse voices of race and class, conformity and agitation represented? Why are the constructions of self and nation reconfigured? These and many other questions will be explored in a selection of literary works from multiple genres that will be read alongside literary and cultural criticism. This is a reading-intense, writing-intense, and discussion-intense course. Assignments will likely consist of two extensive papers, short literary analysis papers, presentations, and a range of assessed in-class and online participation (short assignments, research projects, rigorous debate, discussion board posts, journal entries, a class blog, and so on).